A Second Chance for Healthcare Reform

On Monday, the New York Times reported that the Obama administration is overhauling HealthCare.gov with streamlined forms and tools. According to the article, the site will offer a shorter application with fewer pages and questions to about 70% of customers. In short, the new application is designed for speed and usability. Most importantly, customers will now be able to change information entered on previous screens. That means that if you make a mistake, you don’t have to restart the entire process.

The article says that the streamlined application process is designed for first-time users with relatively simple, straightforward needs. As a healthcare professional, I’m thrilled that adequate attention and resources are going into this second attempt to make the exchanges work. It’s both a symbolic and practical gesture that could be the first step toward restoring confidence in our healthcare system.

Let’s just hope, come February, no one is saying, “third time’s a charm” about healthcare reform.

Hospital Room Design – High Art

Last month, I took a brief look at hospital room design and its potential to enhance and shorten patient recovery. Today, I’d like to explore another hospital recovery strategy rooted in space and design— art. A recent NBC article reports that more and more hospitals are putting big money behind ambitious art campaigns. The most ambitious of these initiatives – the 5,400 piece collection displayed at Cleveland Clinic hospitals, for instance – essentially amount to museums.

In 2007, more than 40% of healthcare facilities already had some sort of formal arts program, according to the D.C. nonprofit organization Arts & Health Alliance. However, the organization says that only in the past five years have hospitals developed a true interest in large scale investments and linking projects to therapeutic end goals. The organization will conduct a new comprehensive study next year, and is expecting a significant national increase in the number of healthcare facilities with substantial art programs.

The modern rationale for aesthetic art in hospitals, according to the article, can be traced back to a landmark 1984 study conducted by Dr. Roger Ulrich. Through his decade-long study, Ulrich established a link between surgical recovery and the view outside of a hospital window. Patients in the study either saw trees or a brick wall while recovering. Those patients with trees asked for less pain medication and recuperated on average a full day faster than patients facing the brick wall.

Ambitious hospital art campaigns are not without their critics, however. The NBC article quotes architects and hospital administrators who point out that it is difficult to conduct reliable studies with objects of perception. In turn, they also argue that any study can be difficult to translate into effective healthcare policy. Finally, cost must be considered a perennial concern for any modern hospital.

Despite its detractors, I think that hospital art initiatives are a fascinating proposition. Healthcare systems and models are changing— I think it is a great time to consider new, unorthodox methods to support efficient care.




The Once (and Future?) Scotland

Today is a big day – at least in terms of global politics – as Scotland is voting on its long-awaited independence referendum. If the referendum succeeds, Scotland will become a separate, self-governed country for the first time since 1707. I’ve been closely following Scotland’s push for independence since even before my recent visit to the beautiful country.

All indications point to a close vote that will be decided by a single-digit margin. No matter the outcome, this will be a decisive and historic moment that will shape the future of the British Isles. And from a political communications standpoint, it has been an absolutely fascinating case study. One side has taken a positive, inspiring tone; the other has been accused of fear-mongering and threatening. Celebrities and global figures have sided with each.

On Tuesday, Alex Salmond, the leader of Scotland’s independence movement, published a final letter of appeal to Scottish voters.  In a campaign that has stirred many emotions, I found the conclusion of his message to provoke some thoughtful insight.

“What to do? Only each of us knows that. For my part, I ask only this: Make this decision with a clear head and a clear conscience.”

Well put, and a good lesson for any of us. Follow your conscience. Do what’s right. After all, your future could depend on it.

Antibiotics: Too Much of a Good Thing?

Chances are you’ve needed antibiotics once or twice in your life to deal with some sort of bug. The problem, according to this article, is that antibiotics are now taken as a “cure-all” without really understanding the consequences of misuse.

Antibiotic resistance is a growing concern within the medical community that deserves a broader degree of attention and discussion in mainstream media (and not just in more horror movies). A 2013 CDC report estimates that more than 2 million people in the United States will become sick this year as a result of antibiotic-resistant infections. Of those, 22,000 will die.

In April, the World Health Organization also published its first global report on antibiotic resistance. After gathering data from 114 countries, the report found that resistance to common bacteria had reached “alarming” levels in many parts of the world.

The cause of this serious threat to public health is nothing particularly complicated — nature’s desire to adapt, coupled with our own habits and behavior. Both the CDC and the World Health Organization insist that two of the strongest drivers of antibiotic resistance are overuse and incorrect use. For doctors, this implies prescribing antibiotics when they are not necessary. For patients, it implies not finishing an entire regimen of treatment, or not following proper dosage instructions.

So what can be done? According to the article, we need more responsible patients and doctors. While new classes of antibiotics will eventually be discovered, development is slow and expensive. Hence, our homes, pharmacies and doctors’ offices are the places where you and I can make the biggest difference. Small steps, such as following dosage directions, could help safeguard one of the greatest tools in modern medicine.

Quitting Tobacco for Your Sake

As a healthcare professional, I’m always in favor of any effort to promote smart life choices. When a $120-billion company gets involved, I’m thrilled.

Last week, CVS announced that it had officially pulled all tobacco products from its store shelves. The announcement also coincided with an important name change – CVS/Caremark Corp. is now CVS Health. According to a video on the company’s website, CVS is hoping to demonstrate a renewed commitment to health in America.

The path to this historic move began in February, when the company shocked both Wall Street analysts and the healthcare community by announcing its intent to remove tobacco from its stores by October. The company is running the tagline, “This is the right thing to do.” It’s simple, powerful and compelling.

While initially unsure of how to interpret the company’s decision, many analysts now view CVS Health as a hugely promising brand initiative. Its success will depend on whether or not the company can commit to its new identity and reposition its business operations. It’s hard to predict what will happen in the coming months, but removing tobacco from its store shelves a month early is certainly an encouraging sign.

In a wider context, I think the CVS decision marks an ongoing shift in health consciousness in America. I think it also reflects evolving attitudes toward smoking in the 21st century. It will be interesting to see how CVS’s decision affects competitors such as Walgreens and Rite Aid. Hopefully, the CVS rebranding will place pressure on these major drugstore chains to make similar long-term business decisions. At the very least, it should open an internal dialogue. And that brings us one step closer to promoting smart life choices.

The Financial Pursuit of Happiness

As I’ve mentioned before, I love to travel, try new things and enjoy different surroundings. Apparently, I’m not the only one. According to an NPR article, research suggests that some people may receive more happiness from experiences rather than making material purchases – even if that experience is simply standing in line.

NPR’s You Can Buy Happiness, If It’s An Experience highlights a study called Waiting for Merlot: Anticipatory Consumption of Experiential and Material Purchases. The research tracked about 100 college students and over 2,200 randomly selected adults, examining how they felt about material goods and experiences. The findings suggest that:

“People got excited about both things and events. But they tended to feel more positive about experiential purchases, and their feelings about material purchases were more likely to be tinged with feelings of impatience.”

I think this research is fascinating. The way people experience happiness can be impacted by so many factors. Pretty cool. I’m curious, if you had the choice between buying an experience or making a material purchase, what would you choose?

If you are interested in checking out the whole study, please click here.

A 21st-Century Museum Trip

Alexey Moskvin/Tate Britain
Alexey Moskvin/Tate Britain

I am constantly in awe of technology and the advancements that have been made just within my lifetime – particularly when it crosses with one of my biggest passions: travel.

Recently, the Tate Britain museum in London engaged people around the world in their “After Dark” project. I learned about the project while listening to an NPR segment called “A Night at the Museum – With Robots” and was instantly amazed by the experience that was offered to virtually anybody with access to the internet.

“After Dark” gave people the opportunity to control one of four robots around the museum after hours. Participants filled out a brief form and were randomly selected to take control of the robots for a few minutes. The robots navigated around the exhibits, streaming a “robot’s-eye” view into 500 years of British art.

Throughout the night, experts and museum guides offered viewers commentary on the art – providing a truly interactive experience. Even those who were not selected to control a robot had the chance to see the museum in a unique and engaging way.

Unsurprisingly, The Tate took a number of precautions to make sure the robots couldn’t damage the art (including a wide base with a kill switch if the robot were to run into anything). Tate employees even created a space in the basement to monitor the nights’ activity and address any issues.

Efforts like this give people the ability to travel to places they may never have the opportunity to visit in person. I hope to see more projects like this take off as our technology becomes more and more advanced. Do you know of other initiatives like “After Dark”?